Southpaw Nadal a rarity among his tennis brethren
Rafael Nadal, a natural right-hander who learned to hit left-handed as a boy, is the ATP's first lefty year-end No. 1 since John McEnroe in 1984, and when Nadal rocketed to No. 2 in 2005, he was the first lefty to crack the year-end top 10 since Chilean sourpuss Marcelo Rios in 1999. If we assume -- as most studies show -- that southpaws make up roughly 10 percent of the population, they're fairly represented in the ATP's top 100 (12 this week) and the top 20 (Nadal and Fernando Verdasco). The difference from yesteryear is that lefties used to make up a disproportionate percentage of the top 10, spiking in 1975, when it was a 50-50 split (Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas, Manuel Orantes, Roscoe Tanner and Rod Laver finished the season ranked Nos. 1, 2, 5, 9 and 10, respectively). There were almost always two left-handed players in the year-end top 10 throughout the '80s and into the mid-'90s -- as the Connors-Vilas-John McEnroe troika gave way to players like Goran Ivanisevic, Thomas Muster, Greg Rusedski and Rios -- but their ranks have thinned definitively since.
Thomas Niedermueller/Bongarts/Getty Images
Patty Schnyder is one of only two left-handed players on the WTA Tour who have won titles in 2008.
Over on the distaff side
No. 11 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland continues her lonely tenure as the only lefty of note in the WTA's top echelons. Two of the best players of all time -- Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles -- were lefties, but there's a pretty steep historical drop-off after that. Other left-handers on the radar screen today are No. 26 Sybille Bammer of Austria, No. 52 Casey Dellacqua of Australia and No. 66 Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic. While two of the men's top four doubles teams feature lefty-righty combinations (Bob and Mike Bryan, Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic), the top four women's teams are an all-righty gang.
The geometry of the game has long been thought to give left-handers an edge, provided they can exploit it. A lefty's cross-court forehand goes to a righty's ostensibly weaker backhand. While the opposite is also true, right-handers don't have as much practice going for a winner that way in pressure situations, since they face left-handers less often. The lefty's serve pulls the righty out wide in the ad court, where most critical points are played. Finally, lefties bring different vision to the court and put exotic spins on their shots.
Is there a logical reason behind the decline of lefties in the men's top ranks, and their relative paucity among the women?
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stat of the week
Revenge of the righties
Left-handed Grand Slam event winners, Open Era
Martina Navratilova (USA)
Monica Seles (USA)
MenJimmy Connors (USA)
Andres Gomez (ECU)
Goran Ivanisevic (CRO)
Petr Korda (CZE)
Rod Laver (AUS)
John McEnroe (USA)
Thomas Muster (AUT)
Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Manuel Orantes (ESP)
Roscoe Tanner (USA)
Guillermo Vilas (ARG)